On Wednesday, June 21st, 2017 our daughter, Everly Joy, was born at just 26 weeks and 1 day. She went home to be with Jesus on Friday, June 23rd. The circumstances of her death are unimportant to her story. Her death is not how we want our Everly remembered.
13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
We want you to know how God used her brief life. We want her remembered for God’s goodness and His purpose for her.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Within minutes of her birth, Everly was taken to the NICU to be stabilized. My husband stepped out to get updates from the doctor and I found myself alone in a recovery room, in shock and terrified. I couldn’t feel God at that moment. In fact, I honestly don’t even think I was capable of praying in those first few minutes. But soon, I was surrounded by five of the most precious people in our lives. In those first few moments, God showed up. You see, most of the people who came into that recovery room shouldn’t have been there. Two of my closest friends were supposed to have left for a missions trip to Costa Rica two days before, and were at first disappointed when they weren’t able to go. Our pastor and his family grew tired of being away on vacation and came back early, the day before Everly was born. My mother was actually supposed to leave for Georgia with her sister the same day our pastor returned, but had to cancel her trip because her sister became ill.
God moved. He suddenly cleared their schedules and lead them all to that room to comfort me. They, and more family and friends, kept a vigil over us. They prayed over our Everly, they cried with us, they filled the physical needs that we didn’t even know we had.
Those sweet friends and family members held us up for the 37 hours and 27 minutes that we had Everly on this earth. Our pastor came in the middle of the night to be with us as our girl went home. He stayed with us as we said our good-byes to Everly. He and his wife, another special friend, made the long drive back later that afternoon so that we wouldn’t be alone that day.
After she was gone, The Holy Spirit continued to move people around us. One of my friends knew we needed to be alone in those moments but couldn’t sit home. So she drove more than an hour in the wee hours of the morning to our hospital. She parked outside and prayed for hours with another close friend over the phone. She knew that our world was crashing down around us and she wanted to be as close as she could while she prayed.
II Corinthians 1:3-4
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
The day Everly left, God sent a nurse to my room. I had seen her that morning, soon after they took my baby girl away, and had been angry with God for putting me in her care. She was a beautiful and very pregnant young woman. It hurt me to see her. But that afternoon, as we sat in the empty hospital room contemplating how hard it would be to sit there all night, with no baby to visit, she came into our room and asked about our daughter. She sat and listened to our story and then she told us hers. She had given birth to a daughter in that same hospital a few years before, and much like Everly, her daughter never came home. It then became clear that God sent her because she was the only person in that place who truly knew what we were going through at that very moment. And she was willing. She had walked through this incredible pain and had drawn closer to God so that she could share her compassion and love with me, and others like me.
7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The next step in this journey was to arrange for a funeral that we are unprepared for, both financially and emotionally. Yet God continued to move. He mobilized a church and a community, who collected financial support for our expenses…not to mention the countless meals and gift cards for food and groceries that people sent. When you are walking through deep waters, its hard to see God’s hands. But He is always there. He shows Himself in the people around you.
Choosing a cemetery for our daughter’s resting place was agony. We went from choosing cribs and baby clothes to caskets and headstones in the blink of an eye. The funeral director recommended a little cemetery close to our home. We went into the tiny little country cemetery and found a small bench in the center, under an old oak tree. We sat there and took it all in and we wept. As we sat , holding each other, we began to notice the sounds around us. Lawn mowers, birds, children playing, all sounds we hear in our very own back yard. Family sounds. The little place felt like home. We knew immediately that it was where she should be. A few days later, we met the gentlemen who run the cemetery to chose her resting place. We wanted to place her under the oak tree, right in front of the bench where we found some peace. The men came out with the tape measures and they carefully plotted her spot. Out of 20 rows, with 75 graves each, the little spot in front of the bench ended being in row 9, grave 26 on the cemetery map. The reason that’s significant? Her due date was September 26th. Now that might not seem important to you, but for me, that was God giving me peace. That was Him telling me that yes, this was where she was supposed to be.
We laid Everly to rest on Friday, June 30th. It was a beautiful ceremony, filled with flowers, cards, tears and worship.
20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.
We have been very purposeful in how we respond to this tragedy. We want to honor God in everything that we do. The Bible gives us some pretty strong examples of how we should respond during times of suffering. The ones we have been studying have been Job and Paul.
Job lost everything, absolutely every single thing he had. How did he respond? He worshiped.
Paul was imprisoned, beaten and tortured for his love for Christ. Did he lay down in his cell, depressed and broken? No, he praised God and worshiped Him while imprisoned.
I Thessalonians 5:18
18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
In the first couple of days I found myself wondering where God was. I prayed and asked Him just that. At that moment, he flooded my mind with all the people He had sent to us. All the people who had surrounded us with love, food, cards, financial support, prayers and so much more. I found something very special to be grateful for in this situation, those friends and family. Each and every one of them.
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
As Christians, we tend to expect to be somewhat protected through life. We seem to live in a bubble, bad things happen to other people, not us. It’s a naivety that we have. We’re good people, we do the right thing, surely God will always bless and protect us from the bad things of life.
Until He doesn’t.
That’s when life gets real. How do we respond when we are held to the fire? We have two choices; we can walk away from God, be angry, bitter, and depressed, or we can draw closer to God, worshiping Him in the midst of the sorrow, which leads us to joy and gives us hope. His plan is greater than our plan. His ways are higher than ours. I will never understand how Everly’s death fits into His plan for our life, but I trust Him. I know that He loves me. I know that He gives me hope for my future.
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So let’s talk about what I believe Everly’s purpose is.
I’ve learned that joy is a choice that doesn’t always come naturally for me anymore. It used to, but now joy is evasive. I have never experienced pain like what fell over us the moment Everly left us. Yes, we have three beautiful children. Yes, I realize how blessed I am. But knowing I am blessed and being able to feel joyful are two different things. I’m learning that joy is a choice I have to make every single day. Every single day I wake up realizing that it’s not a dream. One of our daughters is buried a mile from our home. She’s not coming back. As a mother, having a child you cannot mother is unbearable. My husband has found ways to honor Everly through his service. He and our boys are able to volunteer at the cemetery, mowing and cleaning and that helps them. He has a way to be her daddy, even if it’s not the traditional way we expected. I’ve been searching for my way. As a parent, we do the things for our kids that they can’t do for themselves. Most of the time that includes feeding or changing them. Holding them when they cannot walk. Everly can’t make her mark on this big world now, so I have to do that for her. That is my need to mother her and care for her, even though she is no longer with us.
I am in charge of her purpose now and I believe her purpose is Joy.
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
When God lead me to begin this blog, a little more than two years ago, He gave me the name Consider it all Joy. He gave me the need to say these words to my children and my husband every day, “You bring me joy” has become a motto for the Herrells. He was showing me, preparing me so to speak, for these dark days. He was giving me a glimpse of this child’s purpose before I even had a glimpse of Everly. Nothing God does is by accident. It’s all part of His perfect plan. You see, it’s easy to have joy when everything is going well in your life. Happiness comes easily. We may even find ourselves complacent with our happy little lives. When you are walking through deep waters, in dark storms, joy isn’t even on the horizon. It’s not visible. However, God always provides the blessing of joy. But you have to choose it every day. Some days are easier than others for me. It was no coincidence that our baby girl was named Everly Joy. Ever Joy. Every Day. Help me make her mark on this world. I implore you to get up every day and purposefully look for joy. In every single moment, in every situation, find it. Choose it. Embrace it. “Consider it.” Joy is for sunny days and dark clouds. It’s for firm ground and deep waters.
I will do my very best to do the same.